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Is Berlusconi Resigning? Find Out on Twitter!

BY Antonella Napolitano | Monday, November 7 2011

This may be the last day of government for Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister.
If so, the news may have appeared first on Twitter.

But this is not yet another lesson about people using social media and challenging journalists. It is rather journalists using social media and challenging ... well, whoever is listening to them.

After a week of meetings in Brussels to discuss Italy’s disastrous financial situation, Berlusconi’s position appeared weaker than Monday and his resignation has been called for by entrepreneurs, politicians (here’s a video from some deputies from his own party) and many prominent journalists. Last Thursday even the Financial Times addressed him in an op-ed eloquently titled “In God’s name, go!”.

Berlusconi, though, never hinted at such a decision, deciding instead to appear optimistic, even though a confidence vote in Parliament has been set for tomorrow.

The sudden rumor of his resignation spread early this morning and started from a source pretty close to the Prime Minister’s political side: the Twitter account of Franco Bechis, deputy editor of Libero, a right-wing newspaper. Bechis defended Berlusconi’s stances in the past even though his newspaper has been critical of the PM’s actions lately.
The tweet below was published around 10am (GMT) and says: “I have to correct what I said at Omnibus (a morning political talk show), now I have first-hand information: Berlusconi is resigning”.

On the day rumors surfaced that Berlusconi may resign, Bechis' Twitter wallpaper featured bottles of Cristal. Is the traditionally pro-Berlusconi editor celebrating the end of the prime minister's reign, or is he just a fan of Champagne?

The sentence was reprised all over the Italian news scene: from newspapers to TVs and on social media everybody started to comment on the event, even trying to figure out if and when there will be new elections or if there will be another “emergency prime minister”, a solution that Greece is experimenting.

No comments came from Berlusconi’s staff for more than two hours, also causing a sudden and unexpected surge in the FTSE MIB, the country's main stock market, by nearly 2.5%.
Then, at 12.30pm, a message appeared on Berlusconi’s Facebook page (with 330,000 fans) denying everything.

“Rumours of my resignation are without foundation”, Berlusconi posted, a sentence that was confirmed by his closest collaborators shortly after.

Libero’s deputy editor Bechis was attacked by people on Twitter but did not apologize, while insisting that Berlusconi must have changed his mind after speaking with his older children, who are now in charge of many of Berlusconi’s enterprises.

At 3pm he published a tweet that says: “To all the skeptics: I’ve never meant to be a troll. I’ll publish online audio excerpts that are proofs of what I tweeted earlier”

Even though Prime Minister Berlusconi is facing a confidence vote tomorrow in the Parliament and he may be obliged to resign anyway if it does not go in his favor, probably the most surprising thing is the new engagement of prominent journalists in the social media battleground.

For years most of them have been denying the value of social media, especially as it relates to their jobs , and have mostly used “the Internet” as some blurred entity to evoke in case of weird or dangerous happenings, as an indirect statement of its detachment from real journalism. In a political talk show famous TV journalist Bruno Vespa even defined people writing on the Internet as affected by multiple-personality disorder.
Now they are starting to get used to the power that social media can give... to them, as well.

What’s next? Well, some Twitter commenters are starting to ask if today’s events may turn into an investigation on agiotage, a stock manipulation crime.
What will journalists say?
Will they say it on Twitter?
This post has been updated to clarify the caption about Franco Bechis' new Twitter background.